The Ultimate Guide to Dating Apps (For Those Who Are Over Them & Those Who Have Yet to Try)

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Everything you need to know about what app is best for you, how to create a bomb profile, navigating communication “rules,” and how to stay safe.

It’s not uncommon these days to find a potential mate online. Statistics from studies conducted by the Pew Research Center suggest that 1 in 5 relationships start online. Our society is rapidly shifting toward higher advances in technology and dating apps have given us access to different people we probably wouldn’t come in contact within a more traditional way like through work, school or other social gatherings and settings. However, one of the biggest problems with dating apps is that many people don’t use them to their benefit. People make rookie mistakes by making professional headshots their profile picture, not putting enough fun facts about themselves that set them apart from others,  forgetting common texting courtesy and sending unsolicited, explicit pictures of themselves as the first interaction.

For those of you who are navigating the world of online dating, I’ve compiled a mini breakdown of the different dating apps based on what you want romantically, some tips to make your dating profile more desirable, tricks for initiating a conversation with someone, and safely meeting someone new IRL. 

The Lineup

So you’ve decided that you want to expand your horizons through online dating. First things first. Figure out which dating app is the best fit for you. Here are some of the most popular dating apps and how they work:

Tinder

Swipe left (pass) or right (like) through profiles of people in your area and then message back and forth once you’ve matched. This is perfect for younger people in search of a fling and nothing too serious. That being said, plenty of long-term relationships have started with a match on Tinder.

Bumble

Swipe through profiles and only women are allowed to initiate conversations with their matches. This option is best for women who prefer to control the pace of dating app interactions and are tired of receiving inappropriate messages off the bat. To note, inappropriate images have been banned on Bumble and the company is doing important work on the state and federal levels to prevent sending unsolicited nude photos (aka dick pics). 

Chappy is Bumble’s brother app specifically designed for gay men.

Hinge

Hinge is less about swiping and more about scrolling. The app design encourages you to base your match on personality rather than focusing on looks, prompting you to answer fun questions for your profile. Unlike other apps, instead of complete strangers appearing on your feed, you’re only shown people with whom you have mutual Facebook friends. With the tagline “Designed to be Deleted,” Hinge is more tailored toward people who are seeking a relationship rather than just a fling. Of course, as with any app, this is not always the case.

Feeld

This alternative dating app is specifically for non-monogamous and sex-positive people to meet other like-minded singles or couples. Feeld describes itself as a place to “discover a space where you can explore your desires.” Users love the open-minded community on Feeld and the radical honesty portrayed in people’s profiles. Unlike most apps, this one has a handy “secret invitation” feature that allows you to anonymously invite friends to the app. The more the merrier!

#open

Similar to Feeld, #open is inclusive of non-monogamous, sex-positive, and kinky folx. It also promotes the dating experiences of trans, non-binary, and disabled daters. The most unique feature involved in the app is that it enforces standards called “the rules of the game”: Negotiation (communicating your intentions), Inclusion (treating everyone with the utmost respect), Consent (striving for enthusiastic affirmations and not sending unsolicited pictures), and Experience (being open to new things without shame) – aka playing NICE. These rules help keep the engagement on the app a safe space for all.

HER

As one of the leading womxn and queer dating apps, HER has distinguished itself as a way for users of the app to get connected to their community and provide creative opportunities to meet up in person through the “Events” tab located in your feed. Users are allowed to join social communities and see what people post in the designated message thread. Some of the categories for the social communities include Sports Talk, NSFW, Queer Womxn of Color, Recipes & Foodies and News & Entertainment.

Grindr

Swipe through profiles of people in your area and send them private messages or photos. Grindr is geared toward gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. Depending on what you’re looking for, the app does have a reputation that skews more toward hookups, but again, not always the case. 

OkCupid

OkCupid is all about getting to know you. The app takes you through a series of questions to answer and indicate how you prefer a potential match to respond. Your settings also allow you to input more distinguished preferences than most dating sites such as religion, astrological signs, education, job, income, languages, and diet preferences. After you’ve provided all the necessary information, a percentile score is created to reflect compatibility. 

Coffee Meets Bagel

Coffee Meets Bagel wants to facilitate “authentic connections.” You log into your Facebook account, set up your profile and input your preferences (FYI, similar to OkCupid, CMB includes more options for preferences). Once you have gone through this process, the app sends you a certain amount of “bagels” (similar to matches on other dating apps) every day. You can like or pass on them and if you and your bagel like each other, you can start chatting with them right away.

Your Profile

Now that you’ve gone through the list to decide which dating app is ideal for you, let’s figure out ways in which you can make your profile the best it can be regardless of which app you pick. Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a social psychologist and founder of Sex and Psychology, weighed in on how one can be successful at online dating and get more matches.

“Research suggests that the optimal ratio in your description is about 70% personal information to 30% of what you want to see in a partner.”

Dr. Justin Lehmiller

“Research suggests that you should choose your photo(s) carefully. Aim for a picture in which you have a genuine (not forced) smile and a slight tilt of the head. Both of these features have been related to positive first impressions in previous research,” Dr. Lehmiller says. “Also, if you upload a group photo to your profile, choose one in which you’re in the middle and the people around you are having a good time—after all, you want to give the impression that you’re someone that other people want to be around.” 

“In the description section, include a mix of information about who you are and what you’re looking for. Don’t—I repeat—don’t make it all about you. Why? Because that can make you seem, well, a bit too full of yourself and not very likable,” Dr. Lehmiller continues. “Research suggests that the optimal ratio in your description is about 70% personal information to 30% of what you want to see in a partner.”

There Are Rules to This

Now that you’ve optimized your profile, let’s discuss virtual etiquette through texting and messaging. Let’s say you’ve swiped right and/or matched with someone. Now, the next step is sending them a message. You’ll want to pay extra close attention to these next few steps because this is the part where people fumble their chances the most. 

  • Don’t introduce yourself by sending explicit pictures. This may be a no-brainer to some, but you’d be surprised at how many unsolicited nudes people (women who date men in particular) get right from the beginning. There is rarely any scenario in which this will attract a potential mate. If anything, it will just make the person uncomfortable and caught off guard. You’ll most likely end up getting blocked in the process. 
  • Use the same kind of language style that would be appropriate in person. When beginning a conversation in the DMs, be yourself and don’t overdo it. One thing that people online forget is that chatting online doesn’t mean that it’s okay to throw away all common sense. If there’s something you couldn’t say when meeting a new person face to face then there’s a good chance you shouldn’t use that approach in a virtual setting. For example, a typical first-liner I’ve seen on Tinder is “What’s up, sexy?” Do I appreciate the compliment? Of course. But do I feel like that opening line is cringy and forced rather than natural? Also, yes. Start out with something you’d actually say in person. Try a smooth pickup line or mention something you’ve noticed about them from their profile that’s similar to an interest you have. Besides, who doesn’t like bonding over common interests? That’s what the profile details are for!
  • Just because you two have connected on one app doesn’t mean every other app is immediately fair game. Don’t automatically stalk them just because you’ve found them on a dating app and then continue to spam them with follows and invites on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Gradually work up to that after you two have had a decent conversation. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve received direct messages on other social media sites saying something along the lines of “I found you on Tinder and I was thinking that we should get to know each other, hang out and maybe go grab some drinks sometime?” before there was any interaction on the dating app itself. Slow your roll. Appearing too eager makes yourself look desperate. 
  • Engage in enough conversation to feel confident that you’re interested in them, but don’t wait too long to get their number. Let’s say you’ve been chatting with someone for a few days and you have a comfortable back-and-forth. At that point, it’s acceptable to go ahead and ask for their number if you want things to progress to an actual date. This will help you figure out earlier rather than later if someone has the same intentions as you, considering there are many people who aren’t using these apps to genuinely connect with others. There are a lot of people who only use these apps as a ploy to get more followers to increase their popularity on other apps or to boost their ego by seeing how many matches they can get. Some people mindlessly swipe out of sheer boredom. Be mindful of this if you’re actually looking for something, whether it be a hookup or eventually a committed relationship. 

In Case You Haven’t Seen Catfish

Finally, after the direct messaging and texting have become successful, safety is the most important aspect of online dating to consider. Although getting to know people through the Internet can be exhilarating, remain cognizant of the fact that the Internet can increase your chances of being more vulnerable than if you were to gradually get to know someone in person through social interactions amongst mutual friends and in public settings. Keep in mind these final points about safety.

  • For starters, don’t be too quick to share personal information. You can tell someone about what kind of breed your pet dog is, what school you go to, and what you like to do for fun, but steer clear of oversharing about your life. Don’t give them your address or let them know whether you live alone or with roommates. Certainly, don’t reveal any financial information either. 
  • Go with your gut and beware of red flags. If you find that this person is constantly canceling on you, is always flying to and fro for “business,” and can never seem to find time to meet you in person, then you’re probably being scammed. Also, if that person wants to progress too quickly, that can also be a dangerous sign. There have been times when I’ve received messages from guys saying that they want to come over to my place and bring some bottles and the whole time I’m sitting there thinking, “But I don’t even know you like that…” Listen to your inner voice and trust your gut.
  • Meet in public first. I know some of you may be more focused on the Netflix and Chill step, but never be too quick to meet someone you don’t know alone. If they’re pressuring you to meet them at their apartment for the first date then it’s probably a good idea to keep your distance altogether. There’s absolutely no reason why they can’t meet you in a public setting even if it’s as simple as a coffee shop, the movie theater, or a (well-lit, highly trafficked) park. 
  • Stay relatively sober on the first few occasions. I hate that I even have to iterate this because in a perfect world we’d all be able to drink and still have fun without worrying about being taken advantage of, but that’s not usually the reality. Both of you will likely be nervous so I understand that one drink or two might seem necessary to ease your anxiety. However, downing shots of tequila during the first meetup isn’t the safest approach. If you do decide to drink, try to maintain a healthy limit (assuming you know your tolerance) and keep an eye on your drink the entire time. Lord forbid this happen, but if it turns out that the person you’re on a date with is a total creep, carefully watching your drink limits the chance of them spiking it when you turn away or leave to use the restroom. 
  • Have an out and let your friends know where you are. It’s smart to have an exit strategy planned just in case things between you and the person you met online aren’t going well or you genuinely don’t want to overdo the amount of time you’re spending together at the beginning. Let them know that you plan on hanging out with your friends afterward or you’re meeting your classmates at the library to study for an upcoming exam or work on a project that’s worth 20% of your grade. These scenarios will help so that you can easily leave without necessarily having to fake an emergency. And most importantly, don’t forget to keep your phone charged!

Despite some reservations people might have, online dating is a great way to get to know new people. It can be limiting to solely rely on luck and meeting the right person at the right time IRL or through shared acquaintances. All in all, I highly recommend that everyone try online dating at some point in their lives because you never know what possibilities it could bring. With the right amount of dedication and open-mindedness as well as keeping in mind the tips, tricks, and safety concerns I’ve listed above, you’ll master online dating in no time!


Illustrations by Leonor Carvalho


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Tatyannah King

Tatyannah King

Tatyannah graduated from UNC-Greensboro in 2018. She is now a sex blogger, travel enthusiast and educational presenter with the Center for Positive Sexuality. To stay up to date with her future workshops and presentations about sexuality, follow her on Instagram @taty_kaloni_k.